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Getting Things (Re-)Started: Dealing with Mental Blocks

Getting Things (Re-)Started: Dealing with Mental Blocks

Getting Things (Re-)Started: Dealing with Mental Blocks

    In any significantly big project, there are bound to be times when you lose the track of what you’re doing, when for whatever reason you stop moving forward and, what’s worse, can’t seem to find the motivation to get going again. When we “fall off the wagon” like that, a kind of psychological wall starts building up, making getting back in the swing of things seem more and more daunting. An ugly cycle develops: as the wall gets higher, we get more anxious about climbing it, which makes the wall higher still.

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    The only real solution is to do something, anything, but that’s small consolation when a project is taunting you with its unfinishedness. So here are a few little tricks to help you take a running start at that wall – you may not clear it in a single bound, but if you can just sink your toes into its cracks you might well find that climbing it wasn’t quite the chore you thought it was. And when you discover that, the wall itself often comes crumbling down before you.

    1. Take it on the road.

    A powerful approach to getting re-started is to switch up the scenery by tackling your project in a new place. If you’re sitting in your cubicle at work staring at the foam-and-fuzz walls, try taking a work-from-home day. If the butt-print in your chair has this project’s name on it, try going to a coffee shop or co-working space or even a park bench.

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    The point is, change your scenery. The mind builds powerful associations between places and certain activities – and unfortunately, being frustrated and unproductive is just as much an “activity” to the mind as being happily productive. The longer you stew in frustration at the same place, the more likely your mind is to fall into an unproductive state just by entering that space. Moving to a new site gives you a clean slate to work with, a place with no associations, and is often enough to break whatever mental block your mind is throwing in your way.

    2. Do 20 minutes.

    This is my favorite procrastination-killer: set a timer for 20 minutes and promise yourself to work until the dinger goes “ding”. This is useful for projects that aren’t beyond you creatively or conceptually but are simply too dull to look forward too, like data entry. (Or, I confess, grading exams…) But no matter how hateful the task, just about anyone can manage 20 minutes of it. And the beauty of this is, once the timer goes off, you often find that you’ve got some momentum and really just want to get the job done – which may well be far more preferable than going back to dreading and putting off the work yet again.

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    3. Limit yourself.

    This is the opposite of #2 – instead of forcing yourself to do at least a set amount of time, limit yourself to doing no more than 30 minutes, or an hour, or 4 hours, or whatever is reasonable. Set a timer and try to work, but when the timer goes off, stop. Even if you haven’t made a lick of progress. Oh, you’ll be stressed. You’ll want to sit there and stew for 30 more minutes. You’ll metaphorically rend your garments and gnash your teeth. But DO NOT DO ANY MORE WORK on that project. Force yourself to wait until tomorrow (or whenever you can schedule another block of time).

    The mind thrives on limits, though it might take some training. If you know you only have x amount of time to work on something, and if the alternative is even more frustration, the mind will adapt. By depriving yourself of time to work on your project, you’re turning it from a chore that you have to spend so much time on to something you only get to spend so much time on – you turn a punishment into a reward.

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    4. Skip the hard stuff.

    A lot of projects stop dead when we hit a point where we don’t know how to move forward. One way to get past that is to just set that sticky bit aside and proceed as if you’d figured it out. For instance, while writing a business plan, you may get hung up on income projections, with no idea how to figure that part out. Leave that bit, for now, and continue with the next part. If you need figures to work with, make them up* – you’ll replace them with more accurate figures later. I do this all the time when writing academic papers where I don’t have a reference on hand to flesh out some part; I just skip it, and if I need to refer to that part later in the paper, I put in nonsense and highlight it with the word processor’s “highlight” function so I remember where I need to make changes later. Often, the hard stuff is easier once you’ve finished the easier bits – you develop the expertise to handle parts that earlier were beyond your abilities.

    * You’d be surprised how many financial projections in business plans were made up anyway…

    5. Tend to your knitting.

    Or fly a kite. Or build a birdhouse. Draw caricatures of minor celebrities. Just drop whatever you’re working on and do something totally random, totally different, and totally non-stressful. The brain is a funny thing – it often freezes up under pressure and then, when you’re least expecting it, starts churning out solutions to whatever thorny problems are holding things up. Ironically, letting go of the problem is sometimes the only way to solve it.

    Do you have any tips for getting back into the flow of things? Let us know about them in the comments.

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    Last Updated on March 13, 2019

    How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

    How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

    Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

    You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

    Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

    1. Work on the small tasks.

    When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

    Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

    2. Take a break from your work desk.

    Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

    Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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    3. Upgrade yourself

    Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

    The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

    4. Talk to a friend.

    Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

    Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

    5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

    If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

    Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

    Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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    6. Paint a vision to work towards.

    If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

    Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

    Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

    7. Read a book (or blog).

    The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

    Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

    Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

    8. Have a quick nap.

    If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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    9. Remember why you are doing this.

    Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

    What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

    10. Find some competition.

    Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

    Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

    11. Go exercise.

    Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

    Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

    As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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    Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

    12. Take a good break.

    Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

    Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

    Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

    Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

    More Resources About Getting out of a Rut

    Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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